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Mall owner hopes ‘pop-up art gallery’ revitalizes neighborhood


Paul Takahashi

San Francisco-based artist Matthew Marchand and Pop Up Art House owner Shannon Mc Mackin pose for a photograph in the new Henderson art gallery on Thursday, May 12, 2011.

Pop Up Art House

USA Lounge, an Americana restaurant located in the Sunset Strip mall in the 700 block of Sunset Road in Henderson, ceased operating on a regular basis in 2002. Since then, the lounge has catered to special events, according to owner and local developer Robert Mc Mackin. Launch slideshow »

Pop Up Art House

Grand opening

Pop Up Art House will celebrate its grand opening on Friday with a ribbon-cutting by Henderson Councilwoman Kathleen Boutin. Residents are invited to view Matthew Marchand’s and Justin “Yoshi” Cooper’s artwork from 6 to 8 p.m. at the art gallery, 730 W. Sunset Road. Food trucks and catered food will be available.

In the wake of the Great Recession, thousands of buildings in the Las Vegas Valley sit vacant as boom-era dreams fell victim to record high bankruptcies, foreclosures and unemployment.

That was the case with a few of the storefronts at the Sunset Strip mall in Henderson’s struggling Pittman neighborhood. A kickboxing studio moved out of 730 W. Sunset Road about six months ago, leaving the cavernous retail space barren, save for a few punching bags and mats.

“Instead of letting it sit empty, I thought, let’s have some fun with it,” said storefront owner Shannon Mc Mackin, 43. “It’s an opportunity for people to become creative.”

On Saturday, the space will reopen as the Pop Up Art House, the first art gallery to open in the industrial neighborhood characterized by auto body shops and warehouses.

Pop-up art galleries have sprouted in major cities across the country, from New York to Los Angeles, as a way to combat the rise of empty, unused spaces by pairing artists and property owners.

For a nominal fee, artists can populate the empty shops with their artwork. In return, property owners can get some foot traffic back into their development and, perhaps, a few interested buyers.

“Landlords are all over this because it improves the property and brings life and vitality back,” said Mc Mackin, whose developer father Robert Mc Mackin owns the strip mall and a slew of other properties in the neighborhood.

Pop-up art galleries aren’t a new concept in Las Vegas. When Emergency Arts in downtown Las Vegas opened in May 2010, owners Michael and Jennifer Cornthwaite didn’t have to wait long to find tenants to fill the 20 art galleries they created in the old Fremont Medical Building on the corner of Sixth and Fremont streets.

For many, Emergency Arts spawned an art revival in Las Vegas after UNLV professor and acclaimed art critic Dave Hickey and his wife, curator-historian Libby Lumpkin, left the Las Vegas arts scene a year ago.

“I’m incredibly impressed with the city of Las Vegas with what they did in their Arts District,” said Henderson Councilwoman Kathleen Boutin, who represents the Pittman neighborhood and calls Mc Mackin her friend. Creating an arts district “is one thing I would like to see Henderson do.”

It’s not for a lack of trying. In 2001, Kitty Boeddeker, one of the original developers of Lake Las Vegas, founded the Henderson Art Association to help promote local visual artists. During the early 2000s, the association helped create a number of art guilds in Henderson’s downtown Water Street District, but as the economy tanked, so did the fledgling art groups, Boutin said.

Last month, the Henderson Art Association disbanded “due to declining membership and participation,” according to a letter from the nonprofit. Now, only one art guild remains on Water Street, Boutin said.

“For Shannon to pick up the pieces is phenomenal,” she said. “Kitty planted the seed and now Shannon is cultivating it.”

Like Boutin, Mc Mackin grew up in Henderson’s Pittman neighborhood. The Valley High School graduate spent her summers off college working at her father’s Roadhouse Casino and Lounge and nearby trailer park, an experience she writes about in the Las Vegas natives’ anthology, “The Grit Beneath the Glitter.”

“I’m hell-bent on this area,” Mc Mackin said. ”I’m just really passionate about this neighborhood.”

Boutin said, “To have an old-timer like Shannon keep the community ties and stay focus on the neighborhood she grew up in, it’s really to the city’s benefit.”

After graduating from Mills College, Mc Mackin spent 25 years in California working in an art gallery and later in an interior design firm. In October, Mc Mackin moved back to her Las Vegas roots to help her father redevelop his myriad properties.

Over the course of six months, Mc Mackin transformed the old kickboxing studio into a modern art gallery with smooth white walls and exhibition lights. Pop Up Art House, located in one of Henderson’s five redevelopment districts, received a $50,000 grant from the city to improve the shopping center’s facade and add new signs.

For its inaugural show, the art gallery will promote paintings by San Francisco native Matthew Marchand, 42, and Las Vegas native and former homeless youth Justin “Yoshi” Cooper, 23.

Marchand said he was eager to participate in his first major art show since he graduated from an MFA program last year. Although the exposure will help him in his career, Marchand said, he hopes the new art gallery will change the way Pittman residents view their neighborhood and art.

“Just because a downtown art scene exists doesn’t mean we can’t have an art gallery in a different area to show in front of different people,” the painter said. “I hope that people stop seeing (Pittman) as a place that’s not for art.”

Marchand was adamant about opening up art galleries to the masses, an idea he credits to former UNLV art critic Dave Hickey.

“Art shouldn’t be accessible to just the elite,” Marchand said. “When the economy goes sour, (pop-up art houses) is what artists are supposed to do. This should be a rallying cry for artists to help bring the economy and neighborhood back.”

For Cooper, who grew up in Pittman, the new art gallery is a venue to express his tough childhood as a homeless youth. Cooper was homeless from the ages of 12 to 20, until he was helped by the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth, founded by Boutin.

“Creating art is what I did to survive,” said Cooper, a 2006 Del Sol High School graduate. “There’s nothing going on around (Pittman) besides graffiti and crime. I’m hoping (Pop Up Art House) will start making this area boom.”

Already, talks of the art house are helping attract new businesses to the Sunset Strip mall, which will be renamed Star Square after its $50,000 makeover. In the past few weeks, a vintage clothing store, tattoo parlor and independent coffee shop have all expressed interest in setting up shop next to the art gallery.

“For the past two years, we haven’t received any phone calls,” Mc Mackin said. “This is a sign the economy is coming back.”

When the nearby Union Village — a $1.5 billion integrated health complex — is built in four years, Mc Mackin hopes it will attract more businesses to Pittman.

“Union Village is huge for the city of Henderson and this area,” she said. “This community needs it.”

In the meantime, Mc Mackin said, she hopes to host more art shows in her new gallery, as well as spoken word, music and poetry events. Eventually, she plans to take art outside of the gallery and into the community by having artists paint murals.

“I haven’t been this happy in a long time,” Mc Mackin said. “Art is my passion. It feels good to be doing this to help others.”

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